Samsung bolsters BYOD management with a Fort Knox approach

KNOX augments Samsung's SAFE mobile device management and security system

Samsung has announced an improved version of its SAFE management and security system for popular Samsung-branded Android smartphones and tablets.

Samsung dubbed the updated tool set KNOX, after the famous Fort Knox in Kentucky, where much of the U.S. gold reserves are stored.

The KNOX technology, to be demonstrated at Mobile World Congress here this week, means that Samsung smartphone and tablet users will soon be able to take advantage of a dual persona or containerization approach, where corporate and personal data are kept in separate spaces on the Android OS.

Samsung said its new software is not a hypervisor, but runs in the BIOS (basic input output system) firmware of the Android OS with file system encryption, to protect against data leaks, viruses and malware.

The dozen security enhancements to the Samsung SAFE program (an abbreviation for Samsung For Enterprise) which include enterprise Single Sign-On, mean that users get "security enhanced Android" to "address all major [Android] security gaps," said Timothy Wagner, general manager of enterprise sales for Samsung in a briefing with reporters.

For instance, Samsung has written more than 700 APIs (application programming interfaces) that can be used to help IT shops customize Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) security policies in partnership with existing Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendors such as Mobile Iron, Juniper, AirWatch and Sybase.

The current version of SAFE supports fewer than half the APIs supported by KNOX.

The new APIs can be used in many ways. For example, an MDM system can be set to prevent a doctor from accessing sensitive patient data from a Samsung device once the GPS shows that he or she has left the grounds of a hospital.

"SAFE with KNOX is a comprehensive mobile security solution ... that will further harden Android," Wagner said. "We have systematically de-fragmented Android."

He conceded that Android has a reputation for lacking security, and is fragmented across different vendors, different devices and different carriers.

The KNOX container approach means that if a hacker were to exploit a Samsung device while in the personal mode, the phone could not be be shut down or rendered useless, Wagner said. The KNOX software monitors the entire phone, both the personal and work containers, he said.

KNOX will appear as an icon on the home page of Samsung smartphones coming in the second quarter.

It will require that users log-in to access work applications, email and other corporate functions. IT managers could customize KNOX to require additional log-ins after a set amount of time has expired.

BlackBerry recently announced Balance, which created dual personas in the BlackBerry 10 OS used in the new Z10 smartphone. But BlackBerry adds another layer of security by requiring that IT shops set up BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 software on a server behind the corporate firewall.

Other mobile management companies offer hypervisor software to create dual personal containers. Red Bend Software said its approach will be trialed in the Galaxy S III for enterprise users.

Wagner said some existing Samsung devices could be retrofitted to include the KNOX features. More details are expected in the next month.

Some analysts have said that BlackBerry, with its new Balance approach and other measures, offers greater security than Samsung.

Asked how Samsung compares with BlackBerry, Wagner responded: "The competitive landscape is is such that we provide choice in form factor, price and MDM vendors and we believe we can go much faster that our competitors."

Android is already running more than 70% of smartphones sold. Samsung sells about half of all smartphones, which puts the company in a powerful position to help workers and IT shops, Wagner added.

KNOX will also offer IT shops the ability to manage smartphones using ActiveDirectory, and will provide secure boot technology so that data is not lost during the vulnerable period when a device is being booted.

KNOX will continue the SAFE tradition of offering IT shops VPN protection, as well as 256-bit encryption in the Android BIOS.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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